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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Haydarpaşa Station in Istanbul

What is Haydarpaşa Station?

Haydarpaşa Station is a Baronial-style station built as part of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s grandiose Berlin-Baghdad railway scheme.

Haydarpasa Station

Haydarpaşa Station History

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a recently unified Germany was looking to rival the international might wielded by great powers such as Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm II courted the Ottoman Sultan, Abdülhamid II, in order to gain influence within the ailing Ottoman Empire. As part of this wider aim, Haydarpaşa Station was, on its completion in 1908, presented to the sultan as a gift.

Haydarpaşa was designed to be the western terminus of lines from Baghdad and Medina, then both part of the Ottoman Empire, and the natural continuation eastwards of the Orient Express line which linked Paris with Istanbul and terminated at Sirkeci Station on the European side of the Bosphorus. The link between the two stations was a ferry ride across the Bosphorus, which explains why Haydarpaşa was built so close to the water; in fact, it was constructed on reclaimed land, with the immense weight of the stone building supported by 1,100 piles, each 21 metres in length, driven into the muddy waterbed.

As you can see, the unusual building is a flamboyant mix of architectural styles: the Neoclassical façade is split into three horizontal bands, the windows filled with stained glass, the roof punctured with Dutch gables, and twin towers topped with Gothic-style conical domes. The overall effect is that of a European-style baronial castle, perhaps unsurprising given that the two architects responsible, Otto Ritter and Helmut Cuno, were German.

The station never served its original purpose of linking Germany with the Persian Gulf. The defeat of the two allies, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, in the First World War, meant that the railway lines across Anatolia and down into the Middle East would not be completed until 1940, and since then the line has been subject to the geopolitical turmoil of the region. Haydarpaşa has, however, figured prominently in modern Turkey, as many immigrants from rural Anatolia arrived here between the 1950s and 1990s, seeking a new life in a city where the population has risen from 1.5 million in 1960 to over 16 million today.

Sidelined by a recent metro tunnel under the Bosphorus and a new high-speed railway linking Istanbul with Ankara, the future of the station, which has been partially rebuilt following a roof fire in 2018, is uncertain.

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